In my previous post on the ethics of amorality, I argued that the Fall of humanity introduced to us the problem of amorality. I made brief mention of an argument I’ve been considering for some time, which is that violence, and more specifically, killing, holds amoral rather than moral or immoral value. I want to unpack this concept because it will be important for us to understand when we talk about things like combat and policing.
The problem first arose for me when I was talking to a self-described social justice warrior (an ironic term coming from him, but bear with me.) He asserted that there was “no such thing as a justified police shooting.” As I reflected on this I began to wonder if he was using the term “justified” to mean “pragmatically necessary” (which is how I would define a justifiable action) or if he meant “morally right.” Jumping straight to Godwin’s Law , I wondered what he thought was the proper response to the Holocaust (or more currently, to the ongoing genocide of the Muslim minority in Malaysia).
He responded with this: “Justified means it’s morally okay. Killing somebody is never moral. It might be expedient. It might be less immoral to kill one person before they kill ten others, but it’s still not a moral action. [In fact], it’s always immoral to kill.”
When pressed, He went on to say that anyone who intentionally places themselves in a position to make that decision is necessarily immoral, since we know that preparing oneself to do something immoral (like cheat on your wife) is still in itself immoral, even if the specific act is never committed. Or, as Jesus said, “If you look at a woman to lust after her, you have already committed adultery in your heart.”
This line of reasoning is not uncommon in our society, and there’s a reason for it. As I’ve established previously, we were creatures born in Eden – we have a sense that death shouldn’t be something we have to experience, much less officiate. So even though it’s unspoken, I’m sure many people have the sense that at best, killing is a necessary evil. That is to say, it is immoral, yet still sometimes necessary.
So first, we must address whether or not it is true that killing is always immoral. In the previous post, I believe I argued convincingly that there is positive moral value in slowing or mitigating the effects of the Fall. For instance, using CPR to delay a man’s death for another 30 years, or offering comfort to a discouraged person, are in themselves moral, or good, precisely because they lessen the effects of sin in the world. Or, put differently – we all recognize on some level that pushing back against evil is good.
Now, if we say that killing is immoral regardless of the circumstance, and yet we admit that it is more immoral to allow two people to die as a result of our inaction, we would be saying that killing the one actually mitigates the effects of the Fall by preventing an evil person from killing two (comparatively) innocent persons. So also, if we admit that violence of any sort, including killing, is sometimes necessary, then we must admit that other actions are immoral enough to warrant our resorting to violence – because, as we already know, allowing evil to reign, and the effects of the Fall to continue unabated, is in itself immoral.
But that means that killing, although it is a symptom of the Fall, can in fact mitigate the effects of the Fall. The context in which the action is used is important. This is what I mean when I speak of amorality – violence does not in itself carry negative moral value. It did, perhaps, in Eden – but here, things have changed. In fact, in the opinion of the SJW in reference, there would be literally no actual moral recourse for evil, and yet he admits violence to be necessary, which means – you are hearing this correctly – that evil is, in fact, necessary.
Now, as to the claim that anyone who places themselves in the position to kill is necessarily immoral: certainly, it would follow, if we posited that all violence is always wrong. One might even argue that to be “Christ-like” we must accept that there is positive moral value in victimhood. After all, to “turn the other cheek” is to allow oneself to be struck again, and Christ Himself gave up His life without offering resistance. But this is an indefensible position. Firstly, the passages discussion “an eye for an eye” and the correlating cheeks are addressing a culture of vengeance, not necessity. It would therefore be inconsistent to include them in a conversation about the apparent necessity of evil. And as to Christ’s sacrifice, His death served a singular, immensely significant purpose. It would be inconsistent to apply the details of His death and sacrifice to any of ours.
Instead, we see clearly in the Old Testament God commanding His armies, sending the Angel of Death, calling on the judges to be His righteous judgment against the nations – men like Ehud, who in Judges 3 assassinated an evil ruler and led the Israelites into battle, killing 10,000 enemy combatants. And while most respectable theologians, as well as a rather unrespectable me, recognize that the rules
of the Old Testament and particularly the commands to the Israelites do not apply to the modern church, it is absurdity to think that God, who we know to be immutable, who we know to be perfectly good, and who we know to require obedience would actually command anyone, at any time, to sin. To do so would violate His being.
Therefore, if God cannot sin, He cannot sin by proxy – if He cannot sin by proxy, He cannot command His people to sin – and since He has commanded His people at various points to kill, and has Himself driven out the moneylenders with a whip, and has Himself promised to return at the head of an Army of Angels – we can reasonably conclude that killing is not immoral.
And in fact, we see plenty of evidence of this in the New Testament, particularly in Romans 13, when Paul describes the responsibility of the government to “bear the sword” in the pursuit of justice, and the Christian responsibility to recognize God’s authority in the power He gives the government for this purpose. And we see the correlation in Christ’s own words – or rather, His lack of words, since He was not one to pass up an opportunity to call for repentance – when the centurion came to Him asking for help, and He gave help unconditionally, and even praised the centurion’s faith. As I have said before, this man was a commander in the military occupying Jesus’ homeland – the equivalent of a German officer in occupied France. If there was anyone to chastise for brutality, would it not be the Romans? And yet God Incarnate did not speak. Silence, from God, means something.
(I should mention here that there is a certain extraordinary degree of cowardice that comes with believing that violence is necessary and someone must do it, while simultaneously decrying and condemning anyone who volunteers. However, I will address cowardice in a later post.)
It is all well and true to recognize that killing is a product of the Fall. Certainly, in Paradise there will be no need for violence. But in the context of the Fall, with the reality of amorality, it is not accurate to say that “killing is always immoral, but sometimes necessary.” Rather, when one kills to actively mitigate the effects of the Fall, one acts morally – it is actually good. When one kills out of anger or hate or greed – which are symptoms of the Fall, and which furthers the effects of evil in the universe – then one acts immorally – it is actually bad.
And a good thing, too – for if killing were bad, then no righteous man would ever stand against evil, and evil would reign. The project for warriors, then, must be the cultivation of the moral soldier.
Coming soon: an examination of Aquinas, Just War Theory, and the importance of intent in the morally complex universe.